While many seniors today want intergenerational connection and engagement, traditional design approaches in senior living don’t do a good job of incorporating that connection, according to speakers at the 2023 EFA Conference + Expo, held April 15-18 in Charlotte, N.C.

“The topic is important for the design-build community because it not only matches the expectations of the next generation but also provides a market differentiator for their clients,” according to Eric McRoberts, partner at RLPS Architects (Lancaster, Pa.).

McRoberts spoke during the educational session, “Mixing It Up! Changing from Age-Segregated to Intergenerational,” with presenters Craig Witz, principal at Witz Company (Madison, Wis.), and Sara Montalto, senior vice president of strategic services at Love & Company (Frederick, Md.).

During their presentation, Montalto cited a 2020 Love & Co. consumer research survey that showed that next-generation seniors are looking for a more meaningful and connected experience. Specifically, 97 percent of survey respondents indicated that being able to learn, teach, grow, contribute, and have more genuine fun is very desirable or desirable as they contemplate their future.

Mixed-use design and intergenerational programming

Senior living design that doesn’t look like senior living but looks and feels more like a mixed-use development—a design style that is welcoming and familiar to all generations —is key to attracting the next generation of seniors, the speakers agreed. “A senior living community needs to purposefully and intentionally tap into the energy and activity in the surrounding neighborhood versus being a stand-alone island of seniors, particularly for restaurants and fitness amenities,” McRoberts said.

One example is the Westminster Canterbury Richmond, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Richmond, Va., which includes a community daycare where senior living residents can volunteer. Children at the daycare also have access to the CCRC’s 50-acre park-like campus.

Another example cited by the speakers was Garden Spot Village in Holland, Pa. The 55+ active adult community sits adjacent to a high school and includes a Starbucks and restaurants open to the public. “The nearest Starbucks is 20 minutes away, so if you want Starbucks, you’re going to this community. It’s really created a meaningful space for connections,” Montalto said. (For more on Garden Spot Village go here.)

7 strategies to guide intergenerational planning

The shift to intergenerational planning will require clients and project teams to rethink some long-held approaches to senior living programming and design, according to the presenters.

Witz recently authored a white paper that outlined seven design principles of intergenerational planning, which the authors shared. They include:

Connected, not apart.

Witz said this principle relates to how projects approach site selection. “How are you connecting to the fabric of the neighborhood around you, including paying attention to walk score, transit score, and bike score? Or, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, how are you creating uses or rebuilding around you to create a connection.”

Up, not back.

Rather than place the entry to the senior living community behind a parking lot, project teams should consider bringing the building and entry closer to the street. This creates a more inviting visual and easier pedestrian connection.

Mixed use, not single purpose.

This principle focuses on first impressions and incorporating mixed use and new urbanism design principles, according to Witz. “How often do non-seniors inquire about these apartments/condos because they don’t look like senior living but rather more like just a cool mixed-use development,” he said.

Out, not in.

When addressing the layout and accessibility of the commons, this space should be directed outward to create a more inviting and welcome point of access for non-residents and non-seniors. For example, McRoberts referenced the Three Pillars project in suburban Milwaukee where all the commons will be branded with direct outside entry to create a more welcoming first impression to encourage intergenerational use.

Intergenerational, not age segregated.

This principle applies to operational programming. The presenters provided examples such as coffee or dining amenities open to the public, onsite daycare, classes, and programs open to residents and non-residents. “The key question is, ‘How many non-seniors are on your campus on any given day?’, Witz said.

To illustrate, Montalto gave an example of the artist-in-residence program at Judson Manor (Cleveland) and extensive intergenerational programming at the Moldaw Family Residences (Palo Alto, Calif.).

Varied and blurred, not generic and separate.

When integrating a health center on campus, can seniors easily identify the health center versus independent living building, Witz asked. McRoberts provided an example of a recent project where the health center exterior blended seamlessly into the design of the other independent living buildings.

Creating a sense of place.

“Placemaking is often overlooked but also critical to making a community feel unique and special,” Witz said. “This is also a true market differentiator based in human psychology and archetypes,” he said.

Tracey Walker is managing editor of Environments for Aging. She can be reached at tracey.walker@emeraldx.com.